Posts Tagged ‘melabee m miller’

My poem “Voyage Dream”  (page 10) was recently published in the online literary magazine ExPatLit.Com. I am particularly happy to have placed a poem here since it is a literary magazine after my own heart – a collection of pieces by or about expats. While I no longer live abroad, sometimes I still feel “abroad” in many ways. It is hard to describe where, with whom or what language contains “home.”

This poem, along with the image my mother, Melabee Miller, created for it, comes from our manuscript Cent’Anni. Cent’Anni contains poems paired with images that recount the story of our family emmigrating from southern Italy to New Jersey. It includes the story of our family history research and connection with Italian relatives a few years ago.

The poem “Voyage Dream” narrates the experience of Carmela, the daughter of my great grandmother’s sister. It is mostly based on research I’ve done about the boat rides to America, stories I’ve heard and what I imagine the experience might have been like for a young woman at the time.

If you are interested in reading other published poems, you are welcome to see my website ChloeYelenaMiller.com, which links to the online publications.

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Hotel Welcome BagsI’ve always enjoyed a personalized welcome bag when I’ve gone to weddings out of state. When we made ours, we chose items that represent us and the wedding.  

We shared plant-able confetti, limoncello from Italy (where I lived for four years), marionberry jam (from the groom’s home state of Oregon), an art cube with photographs by my mother, water bottles and helpful maps. 

I was excited to have the opportunity to share my mother’s art with our guests. A professional photographer, Melabee Miller has had her photographs on four art cubes. The cubes are built like ancient Chinese puzzles. You open up the cube and discover more images inside. While we chose the white cube for the wedding, you can watch the pink one being opened up on this Youtube video. If you are interested in purchasing cubes, you are welcome to contact her directly at mmiller95(at)aol(dot)com.

Our wedding had a bit of a green theme (some potted herbs at the wedding) and we decided to re-use shopping bags for the welcome bags. Similarly, the confetti, made by Botanical Paperworks, had seeds in it and could be planted. 

We started planning for the welcome bags early by ordering the various pieces and having them shipped to my parents’ house in New Jersey. To drop them off at the hotels, we called a few days ahead to ask how many rooms were booked and then dropped them with the necessary labels. We tried to choose items that would travel easily if they weren’t consumed immediately. 

What was your favorite treat you found inside of a hotel welcome bag?

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While there are only four days left before the wedding (and we fly to New Jersey tomorrow), I’m taking a break from all-things-wedding to present “Family History: Ideas for Collecting & Assembling” at the University of Michigan’s Work/Life Resource Center’s 4th annual event on work/life issues. The title of this year’s conference is Connecting the Dots.

I was contacted by UM’s HR department after someone read the description of a similar class offered at Rec & Ed and one presented at the Ann Arbor Book Festival last May. You never know what opportunities will lead to other ones.

A description of the workshop:

Family History: Ideas for Collecting and Assembling Researching and writing your family history doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In this session, learn tips on how to gather information and brainstorm ideas before translating the stories and research into a form that you can share with family members.

The idea for this workshop, as well as earlier ones and a memoir writing class I taught in NJ a few years ago, came out of a family history project that my mother and I completed together. Continuing the work of her late sister, my mother researched documents about our family’s emigration from southern Italian (Sala Consilina) to northern NJ in the late 1800’s. My mother, a professional photographer, and I visited the town a number of times and collected not only more documents pertaining to the family, but also an oral history. Our relatives there were incredibly generous in sharing their stories.

We paired her photographs with my narrative poems re-telling the family’s history. The result is a manuscript entitled, “Cent’Anni.” The manuscript as a whole is still looking for a publisher, but individual poems have been published. If you are interested, here is one that is available online:

“Teresa serves dinner at 20:00” Conte: Journal of Narrative Writing (Dec. 2006)

I loved collecting oral history and crafting poems out of those voices and so I decided to begin Word Arrangement, a personalized poem company. And that’s how this blog and venture was born.   

I can’t wait – only 4 days left! – to becoming a family with my new husband.

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Towers as they were being built, © melabee m miller

Eight years ago in Florence, Italy, it was 3 pm when it was 9 am in New York City. I was running a fire drill in a dormitory and the students trailed out slowly. I told them they could have died if there had been a real fire. They were unfazed.

One of the staff members ran into the office to tell us that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. What could that mean? I let someone else answer her. 

The professor living upstairs from the office, who had joked earlier on the phone, called and told me to listen. He told me the story of the first plane. He was stern and I thought it was another joke. I might have hung up on him.

Nothing made sense.

My boyfriend texted me, “Piccola, are you listening to the radio or watching the television?” I probably didn’t answer until later.

The New York school where I worked had been recently hit by lightning and had lost not only its alarm system, but also the cable television. After the Towers fell, we lost our connection to American internet, like Gmail and Yahoo. We became more and more isolated. 

A kind Italian, who was dating one of the staff members, stood in the television room and translated for the students. I worked with my colleagues to help find and alert the students. My mouth didn’t want to repeat the story.

When no one was looking, I ran out of the office and into the olive grove to call my family. My mother didn’t answer. I called my father. He didn’t answer; I left a message. I yelled and cursed at him. I wanted him to call me back and explain what the f*ck was going in the United States. In New York. Across the river from my home. Surely, he would be the one who could explain it. 

Someone had to be in charge. My legs started to fail me as I walked back to the office.

The students gathered by the dormitories, crying and trying to make phone calls. We let them use the office phones to call family members in New York, DC and in consulates throughout the world. We all needed to connect. 

That evening, my boyfriend brought me copies of the special editions of the local papers. We watched the BBC. The professor upstairs from the office came over. We sat close and tried to make sense of it through the repeating images. We mostly repeated ourselves. My boyfriend, who was Albanian, assured me that he had lived through war and this was not war. At least not in Florence.

I was able to get in touch with everyone I could think of. They were safe. My family called my great aunt and left messages for each other, knowing that she would be home. I was relieved, but remained shocked. It took a few days for me to agree to leave campus and the many phones we had there. 

I had to fly to the United States a few weeks later for consular reasons. My employer, in a meeting with a lawyer, made me sign a contract that I was choosing to fly to New York. If anything happened to me, they couldn’t be held responsible. To avoid agreeing to working illegally, I signed it.

In the plane, I fell asleep and dreamed of a crash. I woke with a stewardess throwing herself on me, begging me to stop screaming. 

Approaching land, I looked down at the gap in the skyline. The enormous space left behind.

As soon as I could, I went to Ground Zero. I walked by the memorials that began in Journal Square, Jersey City and ended downtown. I looked through the fence and watched what had been a recovery effort. 

This was where my mother had taken me and my childhood friend to see Santa Claus. Where the enormous puppet show took place. Where one of my best friends had her sweet sixteen. Where so many people died. I couldn’t focus my eyes.

On either continent, I felt both far away and close to what had happened.




Grief can be public, private and physical. The following is a poem I wrote a few years ago as I continue to try to comprehend not only what happened, but my own shock and fear. 

We have to remember and continue to connect with our loved ones.


The first


Her husband was not her first

love. Her first slept like a starfish,

limbs pointing off the twin bed.

She sketched his profile,

tried to contain him on one sheet

with black charcoal.

She was no one’s first love.


Freehand, she drew the parallel

lines. Steel, glass, concrete –

she couldn’t identify their joints,

only the boxes deleting air. Her skyline

shifted buildings, rearranged height.

She interpreted space, distance.


Some things are never

only ours. When they fell,

one after another, that grief

wasn’t hers to claim,

even if it was her first.



I invite you to use the Comments section to share your own story, poem, etc.

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Melabee photographing in Puerto Rico, January 2009We probably won’t do formal introductions at the wedding (no one is invited who doesn’t know us…) I would like to take this opportunity introduce you to my mother, Melabee M. Miller.  An artist, she’s inspired me since I used to borrow her Sharpie pens and draw under her desk in a NYC industrial design firm as a child.

A few quick facts…

She is an architectural photographer who was recently the principal photographer for the book, Can’t Fail Window Treatments. Some of you in New Jersey might have attended her book signing at Barnes & Noble in Springfield.

Her botanical images have found their way onto art cubes and floorcloths. We have an art cube of every color and three floorcloths in our house. I love standing on the one by the sink.  

I bet you are wondering if Melabee is involved in the wedding industry. She recently joined Weddings by Artists,  a group I founded for like-minded artists involved in the wedding industry. Her white cubes would make perfect favors.

She recently started blogging and you can see monthly pictures (replacing her once-bi-monthly calendars). My favorite is the artichoke she is growing in her backyard in a Manhattan suburb – from a seed packet I brought back from Italia!

Keeping with the art theme, my mom and I have collaborated on a number of projects. We created a manuscript of paired photographs and poems that narrate our family’s emigration from the small town of Sala Consilina in southern Italy to New Jersey in the 1800’s. We have published a number of poems and been invited to present the project at a number of academic conferences, but we are still looking for a publisher for the manuscript as a whole. 

She is also the photographer for the personalized wedding poem roses, if you choose to have your poem printed with flowers. Look up to the top of the page to see one of her roses (again, grown in her garden.)

If that isn’t enough, she is also the most helpful MOB (Mother of the Bride) ever. Considering how far away I live, she has had many things to do locally. Tomorrow, she is off to visit with the florist.

Our next adventure? A mother-daughter trip to Santa Fe next week before I start a weeklong residency at the Ghost Ranch through the wonderful organization for women writers, A Room of Her Own. Stay tuned.

Mom and I having drinks before the Sex in the City Premiere in NYC

Thank you for everything, Mamma Mia!

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